British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Tom Stoppard Radio Plays

Tom Stoppard: Radio Plays. 2012. GB. CD. 332 minutes (5 disc set). British Library. ISBN: 978-0712351232. Price: £40.00

About the Author: Peter M. Lewis is Senior Lecturer in Community Media at London Metropolitan University. Selected publications include: Lewis, P.M. & Jones, S.(2006) (eds) From the Margins to the Cutting Edge – Community Media and Empowerment (Catskill, NJ: Hampton Press); Lewis, P. M. (ed) (1993) Alternative Media: Linking Global and Local, (UNESCO Reports and Papers in Mass Communication No.107, Paris); Lewis, P. M. & Booth, J (1989) The Invisible Medium: Public, Commercial and Community Radio (London: Macmillan); Lewis, Peter M. & Pearlman, C (1986) Media and Power: From Marconi to Murdoch (London: Camden Press); Lewis, P. M. (1978) Community Television and Cable in Britain (London: British Film Institute).

Over the last fifteen years the growth in radio studies has been accompanied by an increasing number of books on a subject previously invisible in academia. In most, at least one reference can be found to Stoppard whose radio plays effectively launched his writing career and are among the brightest jewels in the radio drama canon. Yet who has actually heard them? They are likely to be only a ‘trace memory’ among older listeners, to use Scannell and Cardiff’s phrase bemoaning the lack of recordings from even earlier days. Now at last, thanks to the collaborative effort of the BBC and the British Library, we can hear the work of a writer ‘whose work, artistically, politically and philosophically, has reflected the world in words over the past five decades better than any other’ (Gillian Reynolds, Daily Telegraph, 2 July 2012).

This box set includes Albert’s Bridge (1967), Artist Descending A Staircase (1972), The Dog It Was That Died (1982) and In The Native State (1991). I tried listening to these classics in the classic mode advised by the Radio Times (in the days long before Stoppard) when radio was the newcomer in the sitting room – in an armchair in the dark to allow one’s imagination to run with the sounds of the play. I soon had to turn on the light to pause the CD and check two scripts in Methuen’s  Best Radio Plays so as to enjoy re-reading and replaying Stoppard’s verbal tricks and wit. After that I tried to listen with the ears of my students. ‘It would seem a meaningless noise because … people have been taught to expect certain kinds of insight but not others’ – the words of Beauchamp (Rolph Lefebvre) in Artist Descending A Staircase, defending his recordings to his dismissive flatmate, the painter Donner (Carleton Hobbs). ‘The first duty of an artist is to capture the radio station’ he goes on, but I fear the old-fashioned delivery and accents of the two actors would fail to capture my students who would then miss the extraordinary ingenuity of the play’s palindromic form. I too found myself resistant to the acting style: this fascinating play cries out for a new production.

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